Learn how Vertafore uses LeanKit to pursue its Lean-Agile goals of reducing time-to-market while increasing quality and overall customer value.
Vertafore is the leading provider of integrated technology and information solutions for the insurance industry.
Serving the industry since 1969, Vertafore is headquartered in Bothell, WA and employs 1,200 people.
Serves more than 20,000 agency, carrier and managing general agent (MGA) customers.
Handles 50 million real-time agency carrier transactions* worth $4B each year (2012 data).
Pascal Pinck, Director of Product Development Capabilities, and Don Moen, Agile Coach, sat down with us to explain how using LeanKit integrated with Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) enables faster product delivery.
Tell us about the IT organization at Vertafore.
There are 500 employees in Vertafore’s IT organization, distributed across 8 locations in the US and 3 offshore sites. Over the years, Vertafore has made a number of acquisitions resulting in an extremely heterogeneous environment in terms of the diversity of our teams, technologies and tools.
Describe the evolution of your product development and delivery approach.
We wanted a more flexible approach that allows teams to work the way they want while improving organizational effectiveness.
We first introduced agile practices in 2007, and by 2009 Scrum had become our universal approach. Over time it became apparent that following a single methodology didn’t accommodate the diversity of our teams. We started looking into Lean principles as way to implement a more flexible approach that allows teams to work the way they want while improving organizational effectiveness.
From there, we created a Lean-Agile framework that is designed to help our IT organization develop and deliver products faster. It’s based on a common set of principles that gives each team the flexibility to work in a context-driven way without hindering innovation and experimentation.
What brought you to LeanKit?
In 2012 one of our teams was struggling with its existing process and needed a way to improve its flow of work. We introduced the team to Kanban to see if it would help. We had previously experimented with LeanKit and had a high degree of confidence that it could provide the enterprise Kanban capabilities we needed. The team improved its effectiveness and LeanKit proved itself to be a critical tool that not only enabled that success but provided visibility into the entire process.
What were your impressions of LeanKit?
The first thing we noted is how easy LeanKit is to set up and configure, which is essential for a tool to be successful at Vertafore. As the team started using LeanKit two key strengths emerged.
- LeanKit makes it easy to visualize, prioritize and sequence work in a way that provides meaning to the people actually doing the work.
- The flexibility LeanKit provides in letting teams own the representation of their work gives them the ability - and therefore the responsibility – to control how they get the work done.
Our organization needed a tool that would allow us to pursue Lean principles without being prescriptive – yet at the same time provide underlying consistency to track the movement of work. LeanKit met that requirement.
How did you implement LeanKit?
Rather than implement LeanKit via a centralized rollout - an approach that had been tantamount to organ rejection with other tools in the past - we connected with teams individually to understand their needs and explain how LeanKit could help. Interest in LeanKit grew organically from there.
LeanKit became our standard tool for managing workflow based on our Lean-Agile principles.
In 2012 we transitioned some of our product development activities offshore. This accelerated our adoption of LeanKit as we needed a tool that could support geographically distributed teams. Up until that point many teams were still relying on physical boards or experimenting with other tools. Within a year Vertafore’s use of LeanKit had reached critical mass. At this point it became our standard tool for managing workflow based on our Lean-Agile principles.
How easily did the teams adapt to using LeanKit?
Our teams readily embraced LeanKit as it’s so easy to use and doesn’t require any training or documentation. It’s the only tool we’ve found that gives each team the flexibility to define and evolve its process in a context-driven way. This provides a lot of freedom and control in the way each team works and enables them to experiment with ways to improve effectiveness.
How is LeanKit being used today?
LeanKit Usage Stats
- 400 boards
- 600 users
- 46,000 cards
- (since 2012)
LeanKit is primarily used to manage our product development and delivery processes. We have about 28 projects in various stages of release at any given time. Some teams create a new board for each release while others use the same board and maintain a continuous flow of work. We also have other boards that we use on an ongoing basis to manage cross-functional forums and interruption-based work such as production defects.
What led to the LeanKit integration with Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS)?
Microsoft TFS and LeanKit address two critical functions at Vertafore. We have a set of highly integrated product families that use TFS for version control, defect and work item tracking, and build management. Most of the engagement with TFS occurs through VisualStudio, which is our primary IDE for these .NET products. We use LeanKit to manage our flow of work based on our principles for faster delivery such as visualization, collaboration, identifying bottlenecks and limiting work in progress.
Our engineers were spending a lot of their time manually duplicating entries in both systems. This became an increasing source of frustration, so we engaged with LeanKit to build an integration that would address this.
What were the main requirements for the integration?
We had two key requirements. First, each time a new work item is created in TFS we wanted a card to be created automatically in LeanKit using the TFS ID and added to the appropriate board. Secondly, when a work item is moved to ‘Done’ in LeanKit we wanted it to be automatically closed in TFS.
For us it wasn’t important to synchronize the states between starting and completing work, since the way each team maps its process in LeanKit is very different to the states represented in our standardized process template in TFS.
How has the integration changed the way the teams work?
The integration immediately solved the issue of duplicate entries, saving a lot of time and frustration. Which is a significant benefit considering that half of the total cards created in LeanKit – about 23,000 so far - are associated with work items in TFS.
The more people used the integration the more they wanted to be able to do with it, so when LeanKit open sourced the integration we took advantage of the opportunity to add some additional capabilities. We enabled bi-directional synchronization of certain fields such as title, description, priority and story size.
What benefits are you realizing from the integration?
Time saved is the obvious benefit. There’s also a productivity benefit associated with reducing the number of workflow interruptions. It’s easy to lose focus on the task you’re trying to complete when you have to switch context.
The true value of the integration is the peace of mind we have knowing that our two critical systems are in sync. Since rolling out the bi-directional integration service ten weeks ago, 667 active LeanKit cards have been synched with TFS work items. Previously there was a certain level of anxiety associated with not knowing whether the data in both systems was accurate and up to date.
What is the business value of using LeanKit and TFS together?
TFS is the critical foundation for our product development and delivery activities that make use of the .NET stack. It’s our system of record and the master identifier of all relevant work items. LeanKit supports our Lean-Agile framework, providing a visualization layer that helps our teams manage their flow of work more effectively.
There’s not a single tool out there that can solve every problem - especially given the high level of diversity at Vertafore. Using TFS and LeanKit together enables us to combine the value of both tools, minimizing effort without introducing complexity.
How do you use LeanKit to track and measure effectiveness?
Using LeanKit’s daily data extract service we’ve created a homegrown tool that allows anyone in Vertafore to generate reports based on a particular board and set of cards.
During our weekly release update meetings we review a dashboard that contains cumulative flow diagrams, completed/remaining points and burn-down reports. From this we can tell very quickly if there are changes in workflow and if a project is at risk, prompting conversations to understand what’s going on.
We’re able to map the lanes that teams have created in LeanKit to standardized states within our reporting tool. In this regard, LeanKit is unique in delivering optimal flexibility at the team level while providing a standardized data model that allows us to generate rollup reporting for the management and executive levels.
In summary, why does Vertafore like using LeanKit?
At Vertafore we’re committed to continuous improvement. We’re constantly looking at ways to increase our organizational effectiveness through improved processes, policies, tools and training. LeanKit supports and enables that pursuit. It allows each team to experiment and see the results. It’s the only enterprise-class tool out there that truly supports the implementation of Kanban. As a result it’s helping us drive cultural change around Lean concepts and become more sophisticated in our practices.
Thanks Vertafore, for sharing your story with us!